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Russia’s New Iron Curtain

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With the latest reports that entry to Russia has been denied to yet another politically inconvenient individual (this time an American lawyer who was helping organize dock workers at the Kaliningrad port), it seems that the Kremlin is slowly erecting a modern version of the Iron Curtain in preparation for the elections. Elizabeth Vladeck, a Columbia Law School grad who is married to a Russian citizen, was a recipient of David. W. Leebron Human Rights Fellowship, and was working at the Kaliningrad Human Rights Center in Russia. According to a press release from Columbia, her work consisted of the following: “training and educating unions on the legal tools available to them in bargaining. She also will represent workers before international bodies in legal proceedings under the labor code and the laws governing trade unions.” Vladeck’s “crime”? To be associated with a group that receives some funding from the Ford Foundation and USAID. Not only does her case illustrate the Kremlin’s intolerance of foreign funded civil society groups, but also serves as a reminder of their willingness to crush independent labor unions outside of the control of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions. As the Washington Post report points out, the list of those denied visas is growing at an alarming rate:

In December 2002, Irene Stevenson, who worked for the AFL-CIO in Russia, was turned back at a Moscow airport “based on information provided by the FSB,” the successor security agency of the KGB, according to a 2003 letter sent to a member of the Russian parliament by the Federal Border Service. In recent years, Western attorneys for imprisoned oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky have been expelled or barred from Russia. Journalist Thomas de Waal, who wrote extensively on the strife-torn Caucasus in southern Russia, was denied a visa last year. A British lawyer, Bill Bowring, who worked with Russian plaintiffs appealing to the European Court of Human Rights, was turned back at a Moscow airport in 2005, as was William Browder, the largest foreign portfolio investor in Russia, the following year.